Genetics is the study of genes, heredity and variation in living organisms. It is concerned with the process of trait inheritance from parents to offspring. Given that all living organisms have genes; this study can be applied to almost any system containing living organisms. This modern science that we know today as genetics was founded by Gregor Mendel in the mid-19th century, who we usually refer to as the ‘Father of Genetics.’
In his studies, Mendel discovered that organisms can inherit traits from their parents through as he called them ‘discrete units of inheritance,’ which we now know today as a gene. With the use of modern analytical techniques, we know that a gene is a subunit of DNA which codes for a cellular function – for example, it can code for a certain protein such as an enzyme. DNA itself is made up of nucleotides, which are transcripted and translated by the cell’s machinery to form a chain of amino acids. The order of amino acids corresponds to the order of the genes; and thus the relationship between these two is referred to the genetic code – as our DNA codes for our cellular function.
However, not all genes are the same, mutations will always introduce variations into the genetic codes. Two homologous genes may not be identical, but may still code for the same protein. These are known as alleles. A mutation can also change the protein it codes for by changing the amino acid sequence that is generated. Thereby, it changes the function and it could potentially make the protein ineffective.
Thus, it can be seen that genetics can be examined from a macroscopic level where genetics play a role in behavior and appearance, or from a microscopic level where genetics play a role in the protein that gets produced. Thus, understanding genetics is important for understanding not only biology, but also human behavior.